This study did evaluate Attitude of maize farmers toward utilizing agricultural extension service by maize famers in Rivers State, Nigeria. Agricultural extension is the delivery of information inputs to farmers and refers to a form of education that introduces new knowledge and technology to farmers. Most farmers in Rivers State have minimal knowledge on the use of agricultural information facilities like computers/internet. The goal of this study was to determine the accessibility, usage and constraints to Access and use of Agricultural services by maize famers. The study used primary data. Multistage random sampling procedure (MRSP) was used to select divisions in the State to participate. A questionnaire was used to collect data in the field. Quantitative data was analysed using statistical package for social science (SPSS) version 16, while Qualitative data was derived from analysing the narrative responses of the open-ended questions. The findings indicated that extension service officers ranked field days highest for access to and use of agricultural information. The majority of the extension service officers are over 40years old and used analogue rather than digital methods of access to and use of agricultural information. It is recommended that to increase agricultural productivity by farmers, hybrid access to and use of agricultural information should be used by maize famers.

Key Words:
Access; Use of Agricultural Information; Extension Service Officers; Rivers State Nigeria.

1.1 Background Information
Improved access to and use of agricultural information is essential if present-day global problems such as food insecurity, climate change, sustainable and more effective use of natural resources and biodiversity are to be addressed, (CIARD, 2011). Currently agricultural information is often not immediately accessible and the benefits that could be derived from its use are restricted. Enhanced access by maize famers’ (ESOs’) would stimulate effective extension service delivery that would result in better use by farmers and other agriculture sector players along the value chain. Duplication of efforts would be reduced and broader participation would ensue. In turn, this would result in greater equity of access to and use of agricultural information by maize famers, farmers and among communities. Ultimately agricultural extension would have a greater impact than at present, (CIARD, 2011).

Extension service officers are major stakeholders in food security provision. In the very traditional and conservative rural settings it is difficult for extension service delivery to reach target farmers and other clienteles. Extension service officers are professionals who are concerned with agricultural information that will eventually be accessed and used by relevant clienteles in the long run. However, it is only when the extensionists are aware of, have access to, and can use expert and ever advancing agricultural information that they can effectively discharge their agricultural information communication functions effectively. This study therefore evaluates access to and use/utilization of agricultural information by public agricultural extensionists in Rivers State, Nigeria.

Agricultural extension service (AES).
Agricultural extension service is the delivery of information inputs to farmers and refers to a form of education that introduces new knowledge and technology to farmers. There were approximately 500,000 agricultural extension officers worldwide in 2005, with 95 per cent of these working in public agricultural extension services (Anderson et al., 2000).

Yet despite decades of investment in and experience with a variety of public extension programs, evidence of their impact upon agricultural knowledge, adoption and productivity remains limited. Furthermore, the extension services (ES) themselves have been in general “decay”, primarily due to high costs, problems of scale and low levels of accountability (Aker, 2010).

The role of agricultural extension services in the agriculture sector in Nigeria as emphasised in the National Agricultural Sector Extension Policy-NASEP (Republic of Nigeria, NASEP, 2012) is that it plays an important role in sharing knowledge, technologies and agricultural information, and in linking the farmer to other actors in the economy. The agricultural extension service is therefore one of the critical change agents required to transform subsistence farming to modern and commercial agriculture. This is critically important in promoting household food security, improving incomes and reducing poverty.

Agricultural extension service facilitates the transfer of knowledge and good practices to farmers. The traditional agricultural extension is mainly done by an extension officer visiting a farmer or farmer field schools, however in most developing countries, there are few extension officers to serve many farmers; for example, in Nigeria the ratio of farmers to extension officer is 753:1; hence there is a need to determine ways in which the same few extension officers can serve a larger group of farmers with minimum effort (Sanga et al., 2022).

Extension service activities do bring changes in farmers’ way of thinking, attitude, knowledge and application of technology. Extension activities can bring the changes in technology such as the spread of new hammer mill and also the changes in the way farmers’ think of farming methods such as conservation farming (Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Zambia, 2010).

The primacy of agricultural extension in the information dissemination process for agricultural development in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Akpabio et al., 2007 declared that extension service officers are the most effective source of information for farmers. Extension service officers can never be cost-effective or efficient in a developing country of many illiterate farmers like Nigeria despite an effective ES delivery. Further more Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) can be used to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of extension work especially where extension messages are mainly delivered through campaigns in Barazas, Farmers Field days, Trainings and Farm visits.

According to Anderson et al., 2000, re-organization of the extension system has evolved to include four broad forms of delivery systems that include; Public delivery and public finance which essentially comprises the traditional government agricultural extension that continues to persist although with greatly diminished outreach and constrained by a lack of sufficient funding; Public delivery and private finance whereby government staff is contracted by private agencies to deliver extension services; Private delivery and private finance whereby commercial entities provide their suppliers with the extension services required to improve their technical efficiency. This mode of delivery is prevalent in commodity out-grower schemes and highly commercialized high-value agriculture; and Private delivery and public finance which entail the outsourcing of responsibility for extension delivery to private sector providers such as Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Community based organizations (CBOs).

The Agricultural Extension System (AESy) can also be defined as an agricultural information exchange system which shows the actors, people and institutions, their interactions and communication networks among these actors to coordinate the information related processes (from generation to transfer, utilize and diffuse). The agricultural extension services in Nigeria and other actors who provide extension and other services (such as training, education, advice and expertise) are in both public institutions and private organizations. Agricultural extension activities are mainly performed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MoAL& F). In addition, some farmers’ associations, agricultural cooperatives, Non-Governmental organizations (NGO), agro chemical marketing firms have been involved in farmer training and extension activities. Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MoAL& F) is directly responsible for public agricultural extension activities in Nigeria.

The need for current agricultural knowledge and information system (AKIS) by farmers and the use of conventional communication channels such as farm/home visit, personal letters, and use of contact farmers, for disseminating agricultural information is counterproductive (Salau et al., 2008). This calls for the adoption of better agricultural information communication mediums/channels by maize famers in order for them to transmit relevant agricultural information to farmers and other sector players in the most efficient ways and means possible.

The importance of agricultural extension services in rural development is widely acknowledged, particularly in developing countries where the majority of the population lives. Since Nigeria’s independence in 1963, agricultural extension services were largely provided by the government until the late 1980s. Through the 1990s, the established modes of delivery of extension services began to shift in favour of those that involved farmers in the design or prioritization of these services. This re-orientation of extension towards participatory processes was catalyzed by the increasing realization that effective and sustainable extension programs could only be achieved with the more active participation of the various end-users, especially farmers.

Agricultural Extension Service Officers (ESOs).
Agricultural extension service officers provide the link between agricultural research and farming communities for technology transfer in support of agricultural development. Very competent extension officers are needed to make decisions on the future role of extension service and to implement these decisions (Van Den Bau et al., 1996).

An Agricultural Extension Officers’ job or purpose is to provide agricultural extension services in order to facilitate dissemination of agricultural information and technologies for improved agricultural development hence improving the famers' livelihoods and wellbeing through increase in production and productivity.

The extension activities extension service officers execute include: (among others) undertaking trainings; technical support; performance management (work plans execution); avail agricultural advisory and consultancy services on agricultural technology and knowledge; identify appropriate local or indigenous technical knowhow (ITK) and implement on-farm/pilot activities of the practices; technical appraisals from time to time; providing a catalyst role between farmers; sector players and the government; counselling and guidance to famers; collection; Analysis; documentation and reporting of relevant agricultural data and information.

Extension service officers perform subject matter specialists (SMS) roles by providing specific, specialist and professional agricultural information of the various disciplines (as crops, agribusiness, research, engineering, livestock, fisheries among others) within the broad agriculture subject to clients; The officers’ also perform coordination functions that enhance performance, consensus and collective action on vision and issues affecting the improvement of agriculture and joint designing of objectives and activities of the various agricultural stakeholder and collaborators.

Extension officers must make every effort not only to pass on what he/she knows to farmers but also to assist farmers in improving their own capability to solve their immediate problems with farming. Extension officer must try to motivate farmers’ own initiative/self-reliance in tackling agricultural issues in their situation.

Extension service officers provide farmers with agricultural information based on needs expressed by farmers without intention of guiding farmers by providing preselected information. It is up for farmers to decide what information to be adopted and how it should be utilized.

Agricultural Information (AI)
Agricultural information is defined as the data for decision-making and a resource that must be acquired and used in order to make an informed decision, (Samuel, 2001).

Umali (1994) classified agricultural information into two broad groups: pure agricultural information and agricultural information inherently tied to new physical inventions. Pure agricultural information refers to any information which can be used without the acquisition of a specific physical technology. It includes all types of self-standing advice on practices such as production techniques, farm management, marketing and processing and community development. On the other hand agricultural inventions or technologies are those that come in the form of agricultural inputs, management technologies facilitating farm management, and marketing and processing equipment.

In this study the researcher conceptualized the meaning of agricultural information as agricultural messages or impact messages via extension service and agricultural information that is embodied in agricultural technologies; innovations and transferred between the agricultural extension service officers and actors in the agricultural extension system.

According to Oladele (2011), knowledge and information are transformational tools for food security and rural development. And that the Green Revolution of Asia and the Near East was realized through good use of knowledge and information. Information is therefore a veritable tool for development that helps people to make effective farming decisions.

Rege (2005), argues that agricultural information is a critical ingredient for extension service officers as it is the most important resource for them to have in order for them to be able or have the capacity and competencies to advise clients as farmers and other agricultural stakeholders for the increased agricultural sector development for the State and nation. This is because agriculture is the mainstay of the Nigeria economy accounting for 60% of the national employment and earning 45% of the government revenue. Rege (2005), further states that Nigeria has accumulated a significant amount of agricultural information relative to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but consolidated information on the agricultural sector is neither here nor there. This is partly because there are no systematic procedures for information collection, analysis, storage and dissemination and partly because each development agency collects own information with little or no coordination with the rest. The available information is often outdated and is characterised by poor timeliness and unknown reliability. The sector is further challenged by constrained financial, human and technical capacities to generate, manage and disseminate accurate agricultural information.

Agricultural Information is an important resource which is required for effective mobilization and utilization of resources, policy formulation and implementation and other activities involved in agricultural development. Relevant information has to be made readily available to various users including policy makers, researchers, extension officers and farmers among others engaged in the agricultural sector. Agricultural Information Resource Centre (AIRC) in Nigeria is one such information source with specialised agricultural information dedicated to serve a wide range of audience in the agriculture sector by Collecting, repackaging and disseminating Agricultural Information through mass media. The centre works on the principle of providing quality agricultural information and skill training to farmers and stakeholders in order to enhance farmers’ ability to increase agricultural output (AIRC, 2022).

1.2 Problem statement.
To bring about agricultural development, the provision of agricultural information plays a decisive role (Tadesse, 2008). Agricultural information is a vital resource and has its application in rural, agricultural, social and industrial development (Nwachukwu et al., 2009). A prime challenge of the typical rural farmer is the dearth of timely, up to date agricultural information, in spite of several research findings lying in shelves in various research organizations. The most useful asset a farmer can have to help with the management is accurate and timely agricultural information. There are many sources of agricultural information available to farmers. However, the most appropriate place to access and use information depends on the need and type of risk with which the farmer is concerned with, (Ingrid Nya Ngathou, 2006).

Agricultural Extension Officers are the direct link bridging the communication gap between the agricultural researchers and the farmers. In order to perform this role effectively and efficiently, agricultural extension officers must have steady “access to” and up to date agricultural information. This brings to fore, the need for a comprehensive and well- articulated agricultural information system within an extension program which ensures adequate and timely delivery of this vital Agricultural Information Services (AIS) to farmers if meaningful growth is to be achieved in the agricultural sector (Omotesho et al., 2012).

Increased access to and use of information is being utilized for developmental efforts in Africa and Nigeria but according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development this trend is not being replicated in the food production and rural livelihood system. It therefore becomes imperative to ascertain reasons for this dismal trend. Gelb and Offer (2006) reported that adoption of Modern information communication mediums and methods for increased access to and use of advancing agricultural information in rural areas for agricultural purposes faces unique challenge and has long been of specific public concern with regional, national and international strategic significance.

Wide accessibility and use of agricultural information on agricultural technologies and innovations by agricultural based sectors is important to agricultural development.

Agricultural extension officers must have easy, uninterrupted access to and use of it in their immediate working environment. Public and private extension systems are innovating approaches for the transfer of technology and information to farmers so as to empower them to face the challenges of globalization (Adhiguru et al., 2009).

The benefits inherent in the utilization of Modern and ever advancing methods in accessing and usage of agricultural information for agricultural extension and training purposes are well documented (Hafkin et al., 2002). It is however, expected that the sources of information for extension activities would ultimately transform extension service officers into catalysts, who would play empowerment, problem solving and educational roles for farmers.

In the Nigerian context, the frontline agricultural extension officers have not fully embraced the use of Modern and advancing methods of accessing; use or dissemination of agricultural information. They still rely on the traditional methods of delivering it, which requires them to move from one place to another. It is therefore necessary to know the reasons for the non- utilization of Modern and advancing methods in accessing and usage in enhancing food productivity and rural livelihood systems, as is being done for in other developmental efforts. Rivers State was purposively selected for this study because the serving agricultural extension officers require effective; efficient and steady access to and use of the most advanced and applicable agricultural information to address the negative effects of recurrent food insecurity experienced from time to time. The State is located in the ASALs, where adverse climate change effects are rapidly reducing the depended on, long rains and short rains that support rainfed agricultural food production seasons, leading to frequent droughts and high crop failure.

According to Kiteme (2009), in Rivers State there also exists widespread poverty, high crop and livestock pests/diseases occurrences, poor market prices, inadequate market information, exploitation of farmers by middle men, high cost of farm inputs, lack of water for irrigation, poor access roads, lack of technical knowledge, lack of adequate feeds (pasture), shortage of water, lack of credit facilities, livestock in-breeding, lack of value addition and socio- cultural issues in the state.

These problems are compounded by the farmers themselves not being able to individually or collectively access and use advancing agricultural information to complement the information acquired from extension service officers. Some of the famers cannot correctly follow the given instructions. This scenario is worsened by the inadequacies of the types and sources of agricultural information that are at the disposal of extension service officers in the state.

This study therefore evaluated the attitude of maize farmers toward utilizing agricultural extension service by serving public agricultural extension officers in order to determine the sources of this information; how it is accessed; used and the challenges encountered when accessing and using this information to enhance their productivity.

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